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What It Means to Have a Mini Stroke

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. This is a staggering statistic that drives home the importance of prevention and education. While you may be familiar with the signs and symptoms of stroke, you may not realize that those symptoms can also indicate a transient ischemic attack (TIA), commonly known as a mini stroke.

To learn more about TIAs and what they mean, we spoke with Victoria Schunemann, MD, a neurosurgeon at Jefferson Health – Abington.

Understanding Transient Ischemic Attacks

The symptoms of a TIA, or mini stroke, closely resemble those of stroke, but with a few key differences: symptoms are transient—lasting from a few minutes up to 24 hours—and they don’t cause permanent damage.

“If you’re having stroke symptoms, you should visit the emergency room right away. A workup for a possible stroke will include an MRI and if there are no signs of stroke, we can say it is a mini stroke,” says Dr. Schunemann.

If you have risk factors for stroke—including uncontrolled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes, high blood glucose, family history, advanced age, history of smoking or atrial fibrillation—it’s important to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Remember the acronym BE FAST:

  • Balance
  • Eyes—loss of vision
  • Facial drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech difficulties
  • Time—if you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention

What Happens After a Mini Stroke

Mini strokes signal an elevated risk of major strokes, which may cause permanent damage—about one in three people who have a TIA will eventually have a stroke. “Think of a mini stroke as a pre-stroke. Your body is giving you a warning sign that you’re at risk, and you should take it seriously,” says Dr. Schunemann.

After a mini stroke, your care team will give you a full stroke workup, including imaging of your neck and carotid arteries, an echocardiogram, an EKG and lab work to measure cholesterol and blood sugar. “Your next steps will include a discussion with your doctor to make a care plan that fits your specific needs,” says Dr. Schunemann. “Depending on the results of your tests, that could include lifestyle changes, medicine to reduce cholesterol, treatment for diabetes or hypertension, or possible surgery.” There is also a possibility you may need to take blood-thinning medication to lower the risk of blood clots forming.

If you experience a mini stroke, you may want to make dietary changes, increase your exercise frequency and stop smoking, if you’re a smoker. “There’s an impending risk for a very large and devastating stroke after a TIA,” says Dr. Schunemann. “So it’s important to seek immediate treatment at the first warning sign and follow your doctor’s care plan to prevent a full stroke from happening in the future.”

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